The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter
An electronic publication of
The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center at the University of Iowa College of Law
The Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University
Apr 28, 2017
Volume 14, Issue 4
The Disability Law & Policy Newsletter is a monthly publication that aims to inform disability advocates, scholars, and service providers of the most current issues in disability law, policy, research, best practices, and breaking news.
Below is a topical overview of the items presented in this issue.
A. CIVIL RIGHTS: ADA, Section 504, CRPD Ratification
B. WORKFORCE: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Vocational Rehabilitation
C. EDUCATION: Special Education, Youth Transition, Postsecondary Education, & Outcomes
D. HEALTHCARE: Access, Services, Benefits, and the Affordable Care Act
E. TECHNOLOGY: Assistive, Information, and Communication Technologies
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Disaster Preparation, Mitigation, and Response
G. INDEPENDENCE: Community Integration
H. INTERNATIONAL: Topics Outside the United States
I. POP CULTURE: News and Topics Vary
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING: Conferences, Calls for Proposals, Papers, and Presentations
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. Three New Bills Propose to Expand ABLE
The federal Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (2014), or ABLE, allows people with disabilities to save up to $100,000 without having to lose their government benefits, including Social Security and Medicaid. The purpose of the ABLE Act is to encourage and assist individuals with disabilities to save private funds to maintain health, independence, and quality of life without sacrificing their government benefits. Now, three new bills proposed in April by Congress aim to make ABLE accounts more available and more flexible.
One bill would allow people with ABLE accounts to deposit up to $11,700 more annually in their account if they are employed. Currently, account holders are limited to only depositing up to $14,000 per year. Additionally, the second bill would extend the age at which people must have a documented disability from 26 to 46. The third bill would allow families to roll over money deposited into a 529 college savings plan to an ABLE account. Bipartisan advocates of the bills hope that they will come to a vote by the end of this year.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Congress Weighs Expanding ABLE ACT, DisabilityScoop, Apr. 10, 2017, available at
2. San Francisco's Transit System Sued for Accessibility Issues
Two disability rights groups. Senior and Disability Action, and the Independent Living Resource Center of San Fransisco, recently filed a class action lawsuit against the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit System, BART, alleging violations of both state and federal access laws. The lawsuit alleges the BART has failed to maintain its elevators, as many of them are broken down and unsanitary. It also alleges that BART has broken accessible fare gates, inaccessible communications, and inadequate emergency plans for people with disabilities.
A third disability rights groups, Disability Rights Advocates, filed an almost identical lawsuit 20 years ago which pointed to the same conditions, but little has changed in the past two decades. BART recently started a $16.3 million program to improve its facilities, but due to broken down elevators and escalators, people with disabilities often have to get off at different stops just to be able to get out of the station. The disability rights groups hope that this new lawsuit will bring more permanent and effective changes in access to the stations and trains.
Full Story: Lawsuit: BART's Filthy, Broken Elevators Violate Civil Rights for People with Disabilities, The Mercury News, Erin Baldassari, Apr. 5, 2017, available at
1. Study Improves Employment Rate for Young Adults with Autism
Paul Wehman of Virginia Commonwealth University headed up a study to learn if techniques of applied behavior analysis and real-life experiences would help young adults with autism find and maintain employment. Dubbed Project SEARCH plus Autism Spectrum Disorder Supports, the study had 49 students aged 18 to 21 who received interventional services during their last year of high school.
Instead of attending classes, these students participated in internships at large businesses. They received job training as well as help to interact properly in social situations. The results showed that 90 percent of the students in the program had jobs that paid minimum wage three months after graduating and 84 percent retained these jobs a year after graduating. In comparison, only 6 percent of students not in the study had jobs three months after graduation, and only 12 percent of them retained those jobs a year after graduation.
Wehman and his research team are continuing their research with the goal of developing a handbook so the program can be replicated.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, Bucking Trend, 9 in 10 with Autism Land Jobs after Training, Disability Scoop, Mar. 14, 2017, available at
2. Diversity Partners Provides Education to Employment Specialists
Through a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, Cornell University's Institute on Employment and Disability joined with the Northeast ADA Center to develop Diversity Partners. The program provides free education about working with people with disabilities. It offers a toolkit for frontline staff, vocational specialists and others who help people with disabilities find work, and another for leaders of employment services, such as those who develop the workforce.
The Frontline Staff Toolkit has training materials that cover getting to know people with disabilities who are looking for work and building and maintaining professional relationships. In the Leadership Toolkit, people can learn about "changing policies and workforce dynamics that impact the demand for qualified candidates with disabilities." In addition to these general trainings, leaders can contact Diversity Partners staff and request more in-depth training for their staff.
Diversity Partners' first webinar was on March 29, 2017.
Full Story: Kathy Gurchiek, Free Online Resource Bridges Gap Between Employers, Workers with Disabilities, Society for Human Resource Management, Apr. 6, 2017, available at
See Also: Get Help, Diversity Partners, available at
See Also: Newsletter: Mar. 16, 2017, Northeast ADA Center, available at
1. "De Minimus" IDEA Standard Rejected by Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The case addressed what level of free appropriate public education (FAPE) the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Roberts clarified that the minimum standard for a FAPE is "an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances." The Court offered two different interpretations of this standard: (1) children who can complete grade level work must be given the support needed to do so while (2) children who cannot require a program with goals that challenge them and allow them to make progress.
This is a higher standard than the "de minimus" standard used by some Federal Appellate Courts. The "de minimus" standard only requires a FAPE that allows children to make some annual gains. It was characterized as a standard that allowed schools essentially to do nothing without consequences. Recently appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has been criticized for using the "de minimus" standard in a 2008 decision. However, disability rights advocates hope that Gorsuch's use of this standard was simply him feeling bound by precedent and that, going forward, he can see that the purpose of the IDEA is to help students with disabilities.
Although disability rights advocates were pleased to see the "de minimus" standard rejected, they were hoping the Court would take the opportunity to further clarify the IDEA's educational benefit. The vagueness, said Curtis L. Decker of the National Disability Rights Network, still puts a burden on families to show that their children's needs qualify them for a customized educational program to succeed.
Full Story: Richard Pérez-Peña, Supreme Court Rejects Education Minimum Applied by Gorsuch, N.Y. Times, Mar. 22, 2017, available at
See also: Brian T. Pearce, The Endrew Decision: A Better Educational Standard for Special Needs Students, Nexsen Pruet, Mar. 23, 2017, available at
See Also: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 2025 (U.S. 2017), available at
See Also: Gorsuch's decision: Thompson R2-J Sch. Dist. V. Luke P., 540 F.3d 1143 (10th Cir. 2008), available at
2. Virginia Legislature Approves Bill to Increase Aid for Students with Dyslexia
Both houses of the Virginia legislature have approved Senate Bill 1516, a bill that could require school districts to have reading specialists who are trained in helping students with dyslexia. Dyslexia affects about one in ten children and makes it difficult for these students to read and interpret words and symbols. Local education experts are substantially in favor of the legislation. Donice Davenport, the director of Exceptional Education for Henrico County Public Schools, stressed the importance of students with dyslexia receiving targeted instruction and support. Because dyslexia impacts everyone differently, having an expert working with each student is key to helping them progress.
The bill specifically requires that, if a school district employs reading specialists, at least one of them must have expertise in teaching students with dyslexia or a related disorder. That expert would not only work with students individually, but would also serve as a resource for the rest of the faculty.
Full Story: Dai Ja Norman, New Resource for Students with Dyslexia Approved in Virginia Legislature, Inside Nova, Feb. 27, 2017 available at
1. World Health Organization Reports Depression as Leading Cause of Disability
In the days preceding World Health Day on April 7, 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there are now over 300 million people living with depression worldwide. This is an 18 percent increase between the years of 2005 and 2015. WHO has run a campaign this past year called "Depression: let's talk" in an attempt to help remove the stigma of talking about mental health and seeking treatment.
WHO says that there needs to be more emphasis on support and money provided for mental health treatment programs in countries everywhere. The organization also says that loss of productivity of people living with depression leads to financial losses worldwide, and that if countries invested in better treatment programs, they would see at least a four-dollar return per one dollar spent due to improved health and productivity. Additionally, better treatment could lead to a decrease in suicide rates, as depression has been linked to suicide.
The full English download of the WHO report is available at
Full Story: Depression Is Leading Cause of Disability Worldwide, Says WHO Study, The Guardian, Mar. 31, 2017, available at
1. Machine-Learning Tech Increases Accessibility for People with Disabilities
Closed captioning software has been in use for a long time. However, software has been developed that understands not only speech but also noises like barks and applause on the internet. On March 23, 2017, YouTube launched this technology to augment their existing text-to-speech and closed captioning. It has been praised for increasing engagement for people with disabilities, especially those who are blind, deaf, or hard of hearing.
Facebook launched a similar technology last year that creates text descriptions of images for those with visual impairments. IBM used their Watson supercomputer project to develop Content Clarifier, designed to help those with cognitive or intellectual disabilities. The Content Clarifier replaces figures of speech with plain terms, and breaks up longer sentences into shorter, easier to understand ones.
Disability rights activists generally are in favor of these types of technologies, which increase inclusiveness, accessibility, and engagement for people with disabilities. However, one activist, Austin Lubetkin, is wary of assuring reliability for these tools. He cautioned that any errors with these products' algorithms would cause people with disabilities to misunderstand their friends and others with whom they are trying to communicate. Nonetheless, Lubetkin and others have stressed the importance of artificial intelligence and its ability to level the digital playing field for people with disabilities.
Full Story: Tom Simonite, Machine Learning Opens Up New Ways to Help Disabled People, MIT Technology Review, Mar. 23, 2017, available at
2. Feature Article on Videogame Accessibility and Gaming with Disabilities
An article published on CNET has aggregated several recent stories highlighting progress in videogame accessibility. It covers not only independent companies working with existing games to increase accessibility and the gamers those companies have helped but also ways in which major game developers have begun building in accessibility features.
The article highlights Mike Begum, a gamer who has arthrogryposis, which causes muscle shortening and ultimately prevents extension of joints. Begum has limited ability to use his arms and hands. Undeterred, he has risen to a high rank in the video game community, recently placing fourth in a Dallas Street Fighter tournament. Begum plays using his face. He controls one analog stick with his left cheek, while using his tongue and right cheek to press buttons.
One reason Begum can play is that Street Fighter allows him to tweak the controls to suit his needs. Although it was not explicitly a move toward accessibility, other major game developers have begun building in accessible control maps, like single-hand button layouts and visual customizations. These options are available in Madden 17 and Uncharted 4, among others, and are developed in accordance with the Game Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines were developed collaboratively by studios, specialists, and academics as a reference for game developers.
Independent companies, like AbleGamers, have developed several different types of controllers, including one-handed controllers and foot-operated controllers, to give more individualized support to gamers with disabilities. Making games more accessible opens up important social experiences to gamers with disabilities, due to the highly-interactive, online nature of videogames today.
Full Story: Alfred Ng, Playing Street Fighter with your Face -- and Kicking Butt, CNET, Apr. 7, 2017, available at
See Also: Patrick Klepek, Nintendo Is Failing its Disabled Fans, Waypoint / Vice, Apr. l 12, 2017, available at
See Also: Game Accessibility Guidelines available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Letter to FEMA about Office of Disability Integration and Coordination Position
Chairperson Clyde Terry wrote to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator, W. Craig Fugate, on January 12, 2017 on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD). Chairperson Terry urged Administrator Fugate to affirm the importance and future of FEMA's Office of Disability Integration and Coordination (ODIC) to the disability community. The mission of FEMA's ODIC is to achieve "whole community emergency management, inclusive of individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, by providing guidance, tools, methods, and strategies to establish equal physical, program and effective communication access." Recently the position of the Director of ODIC has become vacant, and the NCD is concerned the vacancy will be a step back in meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities.
Through the work of ODIC, emergency shelters are now stressing accessibility for individuals with disabilities by ensuring the buildings and bathrooms comply with ADA structural requirements, and providing interpreters when necessary. Chairperson Terry is requesting affirmation that the ODIC position become permanent. To dispose of the position would imply that individuals with disabilities are expendable and not a valued resource.
Full Story: Clyde Terry, NCD Letter to FEMA Regarding Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, National Council on Disability, Jan. 12, 2017, available at
See Also: Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Feb. 7, 2017, available at
2. Special Registry Program for Police
Clifton, New Jersey, police partnered with the mother of a child with autism to develop a registry that better prepares officers when interacting with residents with special needs. The idea of the registry was inspired by a similar registry in Union, New Jersey. A 12-year-old boy with Autism, Julian, who tripped his home alarm system, and was unable to enter the code to turn it off was registered in Union's system as a nonverbal "runner," who tended to flap his hands and become agitated by unfamiliar sounds. When police were dispatched to the home, they were better able to respond because of the information they already had about Julian.
The special registry program is an online document accessible through the police department's website. Information that can be provided includes, age, address, medical conditions, triggers, method of communication, and tendencies, such as wandering. Participants also have the option of including a photograph. The information is uploaded to a secure computer, and cannot be released under the state's Open Public Records Act, which governs the public's access to government documents in New Jersey. The information will then be displayed as an alert when a call comes into the police that involves the registered individual or address to help officers better address and assist individuals with special needs. Residents with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder also qualify to register.
Full Story: Tony Gicas, Clifton Parent, Police Launch Special Needs Registry, The Record, Mar. 27, 2017, available
See Also: City of Bloomington Promotes Special Needs Registry for First Responders, Fox News, Jul. 11, 2016, available at
3. First Responders Teach Emergency Preparedness
Emergency first responders in Altoona, Pennsylvania, conducted training for emergency preparedness for individuals with disabilities on March 30, 2017. The emergency preparedness training was motivated by the September 11th attacks and Hurricane Katrina, where individuals with disabilities were inadvertently left behind in the aftermath. More recently, a residential woman with an intellectual disability was stuck in her home during a fire, and firefighters were unable to assist the woman because she was too frightened by the first responders. The woman called a friend who was able to help, but the outcome is not always positive. First responders say acquiring emergency preparedness skills in this kind of situation has to be mutual in order for the individual in danger to feel safe, and for the first responder to do their job.
This is the second annual training of its kind. Individuals with disabilities and service providers sat with first responders and discussed emergency situations, and how to prepare for and cope with those situations. Individuals learned how to assist first responders through lanyards displaying information about their disability. The responders, in turn, learned how prior knowledge of an individual's disability can be critical in successfully remedying the situation in an efficient manner.
Full Story: William Kibler, People with Disabilities Learn Emergency Prep, Altoona Mirror, Apr. 1, 2017, available at
1. Waterproof and Air Powered Wheelchair Could Change Many People's Lives.
A new wheelchair has been invented that is lightweight, waterproof, and does not require batteries. The PneuChair, created by the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories, debuted this month and is a promising product. While traditional power chairs cannot handle wet conditions and take hours to charge, PneuChair is completely waterproof and is charged in minutes using an air compressor. The PneuChair can travel three miles before needing to be recharged. Additionally, the PneuChair weighs only 80 pounds and can travel up to five miles per hour.
Although the PneuChair is not yet commercially available, it is currently assisting the patrons of Morgan's Wonder World, an accessible theme and splash park in San Antonio. Production is scheduled to begin by the end of the year. The designer sees a future for the PneuChair in stores, parks, airports, and nursing homes, and as a primary wheelchair for some users. After mass production, the designer believes the PneuChair could change the lives of many people with disabilities around the world.
Full Story: David Templeton, Waterproof Power Wheelchair May Be Headed to Market, DisabilityScoop, Apr. 11, 2017, available at
2. Home Renovation Organization Offers Low Interest Loans to Homeowners with Disabilities
The Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF) has partnered with the Disability CDFI Coalition to provide low-interest rate financing for homeowners with disabilities in need of renovations. The Disability CDFI Coalition connects the disability community to the community development financial institution industry to ensure the various needs of people with disabilities are met in their homes. SELF promotes environmentally friendly home renovations and disability focused products. Together, the organizations are helping more families, including those with low incomes, procure accessible amenities for their homes.
Full Story: Doug Coward, SELF Joins the National Disability CDFI Coalition, TCPalm, Apr. 12, 2017, available at
1. Ecuador Elects First President with a Disability
Lenin Moreno, a disability rights activist who uses a wheelchair, was elected president of Ecuador on April 2, 2017. While Ecuador has had politicians with disabilities in the past, none has emphasized disability rights in their platform.
Moreno has worked throughout his career to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. In his most recent position, as Ecuador's Vice President, he launched a job placement program for people with disabilities that targeted institutionalized discrimination and social isolation of people with disabilities. Moreno's platform centers around promoting social inclusion, not charity, for people with disabilities. Moreno hopes to continue this disability rights activism in his presidency.
Full Story: Moreno Makes History: 1st Head of State Elected with Paraplegia, TeleSurTV, Apr. 3, 2017, available at
2. European Conference Calls for Attention for Refugees with Disabilities
The European Parliament in Brussels had a conference on March 28 to address the growing needs of refugees with disabilities, which are often overlooked in times of conflict. The conference was organized by the European Disability Forum and Human Rights Watch, and included people with disabilities, refugees, UN agencies, and aid organizations.
The event cited specifically the current issue with asylum seekers in Greece, as many people flee the conflict zone in Syria. Recent studies have shown that refugees with disabilities have difficulty getting access to shelter, sanitation, and medical care. The event envisioned closer monitoring of European Union funds, and making sure that the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is still in effect during wartime.
Full Story: EU: Ensure Aid Reaches Refugees with Disabilities, Human Rights Watch, Mar. 27, 2017, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Accessibility Lawsuit Brought Against Producers of Hamilton
Mark Lasser, who is blind, has brought a class action lawsuit against the producers of the Broadway show Hamilton for the lack of audio description during the show. Hamilton is one of the most popular shows on Broadway, yet it is inaccessible to theatergoers who are blind.
Audio description has been around for a number of years, and it has only gotten easier to provide the services as technology has improved. Vice President of operations and engineering for Sound Associates Mark Annunziato says that "[s]ince Broadway shows now use computers to trigger light, set and sound cues, automated audio description can be set up to work with those systems and offered at every performance, with minimal cost." Big Broadway shows have large budgets, so a show like Hamilton should easily be able to provide audio description for its audience members who are blind.
Full Story: Jeff Lunden, A Blind Theatergoer's 'Hamilton' Lawsuit Aims Spotlight on Broadway Accessibility, NPR, Mar. 14, 2017, available at
2. New Muppets Character Represents Children with Autism
Julia, a four-year-old with autism, is the newest member of the Muppets cast in the children's show Sesame Street. Her character was being developed for three years and included consultation with autism advocacy groups, like the Autism Society of America. Sherrie Westin, who is an executive vice president at Sesame Workshop, realizes that there is no one example of a child with autism, but the creators developed Julia to have traits with which children can identify.
Julia first appeared in Sesame Street books last year. Researchers from Georgetown University studied the effects of these materials. The results of the study suggest that the materials promote inclusion and acceptance broadly. Julia appeared on TV for the first time on April 10, 2017, in the United States. She will appear in other countries and languages in episodes this season and will continue to be in future seasons of Sesame Street.
Full Story: David Folkenflik, Julia, a Muppet with Autism, Joins the Cast of 'Sesame Street', NPR, Mar. 20, 2017, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Call for Papers and Proposals
Webinars and Conferences
Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature by Rosemarie Garland Thomson "Inaugurates a new field of disability studies by framing disability as a minority discourse rather than a medical one, revising oppressive narratives and revealing liberatory ones."
Freaks of History: Two Performance Texts by James MacDonald "presents two dramatic explorations of disability within the wider themes of sexuality, gender, foreignness, and the other."
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is supported by the following sources:
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Note to readers: News article links may require free registration for access, or may be active for a limited time before the respective news services archive them. Archived items may also be available for a fee. Products mentioned in this newsletter are for information only and do not constitute an endorsement.
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is the collaborative product of Editor-in-Chief David W. Klein, Ph.D., Executive Editor William N. Myhill, M.Ed., J.D.; and Associate Editors Shannon McGlew, Kathleen Battoe, Catherine Ostrowski-Martin, Laura O'Brien, Christina Kalebic, John Cronin, and Eddie Montesdeoca
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